Melbourne VIC, Australia, 14 January 2014 | Leigh Rogers

Jayla Tran is the 2013 MLC Tennis Hot Shot of the Year.

The seven year-old, who plays at the Sanctuary Lakes Recreation Club in Victoria, was crowned the winner of the award at a special ceremony at the Melbourne Zoo last night.

Jayla beat thousands of entries and 11 other nominees to win the award that recognises MLC Tennis Hot Shots players who best demonstrate the spirit of tennis through their participation, enthusiasm and enjoyment of the game.

“I was shocked. There were 11 other nominees and I can’t believe how I got chosen,” an excited Jayla said. “It means a lot to me and my family.”

The prize includes $5000 from MLC, a year’s worth of free coaching and a private lesson with MLC Tennis Hot Shots ambassador Alicia Molik at her home club.

Jayla, who lists Molik and Roger Federer as her favourite players, couldn’t wipe the smile off her face after her win as she was joined by her emotional mother on stage to receive the award from Molik.

“When I was four I tried tennis for one year but then I wanted to try other sports. I didn’t like any of the other sports so I went back to tennis and this is what happened,” Jayla said.

The August nominee has already made plans for what to do with her prize money, with a new tennis racquet near the top of her wishlist.

“I’ll spent $1000 on tennis stuff then put half in my bank account, half in my brother’s bank account,” she said.

Molik, a former top 10 player in both singles and doubles, said Jayla was a deserving winner.“She is a gorgeous girl and you could just see her eyes light up after her name was called out,” she said.

Molik said it was a special evening to be part of it.

“I love it because it involves the whole community. The decision for Jayla to win this award doesn’t just impact her but also her family, friends, tennis club and community. Everyone gets a real buzz out of the fact that someone from their tennis club and their community has won a really big competition and hopefully it inspires the next generation,” she said.

All nominees for the 2013 MLC Tennis Hot Shot of the Year and their families were given behind-the-scene access at Melbourne Zoo and spent time feeding giraffes before the ceremony started. The nominees were then all introduced during the ceremony and got to ask Molik, the evening’s special guest, questions on stage.

The 2012 MLC Tennis Hot Shot of the Year Lachlan Hewatt of Canberra was another special guest at the ceremony, acting as a mentor for this year’s nominees.

“It brings back heaps of memories,” Lachlan said of being part of the night.

The inaugural winner of the award also had some advice for his successor.

“Have fun and just go with the flow,” he said.

General Manager of MLC Marketing Michael Nearhos spoke about how the partnership with Tennis Australia’s Tennis Hot Shots program enables MLC to support Australian tennis and tomorrow’s stars of the game.

“At MLC we believe in the power of coaching. Whether you require a financial coach or a tennis coach, the right advice and support will help you achieve success,” he said.

“MLC Tennis Hot Shots allows us to support coaches and the community to help Australian families, both on and off the court. From grassroots to grand slam, MLC supports tennis across the country.”

All of the nominees will be treated to a VIP experience at the Australian Open today, getting early access to the Melbourne Park grounds so they can play MLC Tennis Hot Shots on Rod Laver Arena, get photos of the Australian Open trophies and have a tour of the grounds.

A special part of the experience was revealed during last night’s ceremony, the nominees and their families had court-side seating for a Roger Federer practice session. The news was met with a lot of excitement, with most of the nominees listing Federer as their favourite player.

> Enter the 2014 Tennis Hot Shot of the Year award.